Between 2018 and 2022, there has been an over 1000% increase in catalytic converter theft, per the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
A black market has expanded and states are tightening up laws related to the reselling of the parts.
In the background, an increasing amount of people are being killed while trying to steal the parts.
Amid an alarming rise in catalytic converter thefts over the past five years, more people accused of attempting to scour the precious parts are being killed in the process.
Replacing the part can cost upwards of a thousand dollars, but the thefts are also costing people their lives. In recent months, several people have been run over or crushed to death while attempting to steal the parts, according to local reports across the country.
Since 2018, there has been a steady rise in the thefts, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
That year, there were close to 1,300 thefts for which an insurance claim was filed, a figure that increased by 325% the following year. By 2020, there were just under 14,500 thefts. The data does not account for thefts where an insurance claim was not filed.
People are scouring for a metal more valuable than gold
Between 2018 and 2022, there has been a 1,215% rise in the thefts, according to the NCIB. The part helps cars reduce the amount of toxic and polluting gases emitted from each vehicle’s engine. The thefts have largely risen during times of financial hardship and economic uncertainty, per the NCIB.
A black market has also burgeoned where platinum, palladium, and rhodium, the precious metals used in the part, are being harvested. Rhodium’s price per troy ounce has reached up to eight times the price of gold since 2019, according to CalMatters.
Having the part stolen can set drivers back between $1,000 to $3,000 dollars without help from insurance, per the NICB. Preventing the theft is also a costly measure, with Cat Shields — a mechanism that blocks access to the converter — costing between $200 and $500 on average.
To steal the parts, thieves have to place themselves underneath vehicles, often propping the cars up with a jack—leaving them in harm’s way.
Tragedy is striking more often as the thefts increase
In February 2023, a Palmdale, California woman was asleep in her Ford Excursion when a man went underneath her car and began attempting to saw off her converter, she told authorities, according to the Los Angeles Times.
When she awoke to the noise, she started her car and reversed from the parking spot not knowing someone was beneath her, killing the man, per the report.
Weeks later in Georgia, a man was crushed to death while attempting to remove a catalytic converter from a car at a dealership with a jack. The jack lost support of the car, which fell onto the man and he was found dead the following morning, according to WSAV3.
In Merced, California, a man was killed in a similar manner in March 2022, after a vehicle collapsed onto him while he was attempting to steal a converter, per ABC30.
In April 2022, a Sacramento man was run over while trying to steal a catalytic converter, according to Fox2, and the year prior, in Anaheim, a man was killed after the Toyota Prius he was trying to pry a converter from at an auto repair shop fell onto him, according to KIRO7.
States are introducing a host of new laws to stem the uptick in thefts
Over the last years, states have acted to pass new laws to quell the uptick in thefts, in attempts to cut out middlemen like unauthorized scrap yards where catalytic converters can be pawned off without a trace, typically for $50 to $250, according to NICB.
At least 35 states have passed laws or introduced legislation aiming to stop the rise in thefts, with California accounting for at least 37% of the thefts, according to NICB data.
There are at least three new laws on the books, including one which tightens the circles of sellers and resellers of the parts to the owners, licensed auto dismantlers, and repair shops. Another measure requires purchasers to register extra layers of documentation such as the VIN number of the converter’s original car, as well as information about the car’s make, year, and model, according to CalMatters.
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